On their 2009 debut album, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart exploded out of the gate with an irresistibly hook-laden fuzz-fest. With their lo-fi charm, every song would have been a hit in the alternate universe where radio stations play a wider variety of music. The band’s follow-up, Belong, found frontman Kip Berman and company channeling punk rock intensity through shoegazey pop, with punched-up distorted guitars and in-your-face drums. If you’re a fan of the band, you’d be forgiven for predicting that subsequent albums would follow the same model, but Days Of Abandon bucks the trend within the first few seconds. Die-hard fans of Berman’s previous work might turn up their noses at this latest offering, but Days Of Abandon is a thoughtful, deliberate record that rewards the viewer upon multiple listens.
Gone almost entirely are the buzzsaw guitars and dissonant fuzz, replaced with shimmering chorus, chiming reverb, and a clean, poppy aesthetic. It’s a little disappointing at first, if only because what the band was doing before worked so well (hell, I had to go out and buy a fuzz pedal after the first time I heard “This Love Is Fucking Right!“), but despite the sonic changes, the songwriting remains as concise and vital as ever. On some level, these changes shouldn’t be so surprising, considering that three of the band’s five members left shortly after touring for Belong concluded, including sometimes lead vocalist Peggy Wang. On Days Of Abandon, she has been ably replaced by Jen Goma of Brooklyn dream-pop band A Sunny Day in Glasgow. Frankly, this is a welcome change, as Goma’s vocals are a little more self-assured than Wang’s were, and the tracks where she takes lead are some of the best on the record.
Despite all the personnel shifts, The Pains Of Being is very much a vehicle for Kip Berman’s artistic voice. Berman has always been one to wear his heart proudly on his sleeve, and Days Of Abandon finds him in somewhat of a more melancholy mood. Album opener “Art Smock” lilts along with a haunting, half-whispered melody and is easily the tenderest offering from the band to date; Berman and Goma’s vocals harmonize perfectly as he croons “you said you’d never be fine with being fine, or mine”. Elsewhere, the dour mood continues with the soggy synths of ballad “The Asp At My Chest” and “Coral and Gold”, which is the album’s only major misstep, a deflated momentum-killer situated directly in the center of the album. Thankfully, the rest of the album ditches the balladry for a healthy dose of the sunny bounciness that Berman and co. normally traffic in. The lead single, “Simple and Sure”, is vintage Pains, just shined up a little bit. The bright harmonies and effervescent synths are enough to make anyone bob their head – throw this one on your car stereo with the windows down.
Other album highlights include the brief “Until The Sun Explodes”, which is the only time Berman really breaks out the Big Muff on the record, the twangy “Masokissed,” and “Life After Life” and “Kelly,” both of which feature lead vocal turns by Jen Goma. “Life After Life” is particularly fantastic, a delicate mid-tempo number backed with swelling trumpets and twinkling keyboards that finds the narrator ruminating over a failed relationship. “He’s taken up with a new girl, who keeps his conscience clean / and tells him he’s a keeper,” she sighs wistfully, “but I don’t know if he knows what that means.” It’s a familiar sentiment, one that comes with experience, of realizing you never knew someone the way you thought you did.
Days Of Abandon finds Berman looking back, sometimes regretfully, sometimes painfully, and deciding to move forward and onwards and upwards. It’s a maturity reflected not only in the lyrics but in the music as well – the fizzy, aggressive energy that marked their earlier music has been supplanted by an almost wistful quality. Sure, it’s not the same band you used to know, but the guy who wrote “Young Adult Friction” and “A Teenager In Love” had to grow up sometime. Besides, I would almost always rather see artists push themselves to evolve rather than churn out album after album of the same stuff. Days Of Abandon is The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s most nuanced work yet, and anyone who spends a little time with the record will find a lot to love.
Days Of Abandon is available now at your local record store, on iTunes and at The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s website.